Friday, December 01, 2006

A Semester of Growth: An Examination of the Blogging Experience

I would not call myself technologically savvy. Having a rocky relationship with computers, I have named all of my machines in an attempt to bond with them and thus prevent the trend of their revolts and subsequent deaths. One can then imagine the comical scenario of me entering a classroom full of daunting computers rather than friendly desks. I was further terrified when I learned I would have to create a blog. Navigating from instructional page to page during the first few days of class was a frustrating exercise in becoming completely lost. However, determined to pass the class, I was forced to lay aside my fear of computers and tackle the task at hand. Through my experience with Writing 340, I can now proudly say that I am accomplished in navigating the internet as well as using PhotoShop and PowerPoint.

In the initial phases of grappling with Blogger and PhotoShop, I lost sight of the real purpose of the class: writing. Focused intently on mastering the web and its audience, my writing often took a secondary position. This is a problem for which the re-revisions of the two preceding entries have offered a solution. My approach in perfecting these was geared towards ensuring that the ideas and tone I worked hard to effectively develop for the internet are matched by equally clear phrasing.

The goal of my blog is to present my ideas concerning the current state of our environment and in doing so, prompt the reader to at least consider his own views. I strove to provide interesting examples of environmental problems and analyze those who are working to fix them. With a degree split between Theatre and Environmental Studies, I hope to become a public face advocating the effective stewardship of our home. This experience has given me the opportunity to clarify my own views as well as to take a closer look at the individuals involved in environmentalism.

I thoroughly enjoyed analyzing the Natural Resource Defense Council’s website, an organization currently leading the environmental cause. The challenge with this task was the broad scope of the website, which made choosing a focus for the paper difficult. However, my greatest and most successful experience came from analyzing Al Gore and his contributions to the environmental movement. Reading his philosophies reinforced my idea that change starts with individuals. I found myself engulfed in his book, An Inconvenient Truth. I feel that I have learned as much about the environment from reading it as I have learned about effectively blogging from taking this course. I cannot look back at this semester without acknowledging tremendous growth.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Al Gore: An Environmental Herald With a Message for the Graduates of USC

It is no small task selecting the exemplary and outstanding individuals upon whom to bestow the accolade of honorary degree from a university. The world is bejeweled with multitudes of talented and innovative individuals who have dedicated themselves to bettering their communities. Whether their work is humanitarian, scientific, artistic, or academic, these bright leaders continuously provide an inspiring example to those eager to leave the arena of education and emerge as contributing members of society. As such, this time-honored tradition of selecting the exceptional few for honorary degrees has had much discussion devoted to it. In his book Liberal Education and the Public Interest, James Freedman, president emeritus of Dartmouth College and the University of Iowa, offers forth his observations and wisdom on awarding this honor. Additionally, Mike Martin, philosophy professor at Chapman University, discusses the attributes necessary in becoming truly extraordinary in one’s profession in his writing, Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics. The attention given to the topic of conferring honorary degrees for remarkable achievements by both these academics demonstrates the importance of electing the most appropriate person to represent the character and goals of a university. In considering who might be given the honor of speaking at the University of Southern California’s 2007 commencement and holding an honorary degree from the institution, Al Gore proves to be a positive choice. As not only the former Vice President of the United States, but also a public advocate of environmental awareness and activism, Gore’s continued dedication to his work, the community, and ethics distinguishes him as an outstanding member of the humanitarian and political realms.

James Freedman maintains that awarding honorary degrees affords “college presidents with an opportunity to emphasize an institution’s values” (117). As such, it is important to first understand what standards and ethics the school promotes and the goals it is striving to accomplish before making a nomination. The University of Southern California (USC) clearly delineates its values in the school’s Role and Mission. Of chief concern to the university “is the development of human beings and society as a whole,” a goal sought through research, community involvement, public leadership and service, and the development of Southern California, the nation, and the world. Al Gore embodies these principles in his continued public service as well as the position he has taken at the forefront of the environmental movement. In his “vow to make the climate crisis the top priority of [his] professional life” (8), Gore seeks to better the community on a global scale. He does so by raising awareness about environmental issues, laying bare environmental misinformation circulated by the media and the administration, working to sway legislation, and prompting the populace to take an active role in preserving the planet for future generations. His work goes beyond merely developing a more constructive present society, but improving that of the future. In his recent book, An Inconvenient Truth, he maintains that we have “an obligation to safeguard [the] future and protect the Earth we are bequeathing to [our children]” (11). Gore is an active force in changing the global environmental situation through his service in political office and his presence in the public arena delivering speeches. One might question him as a reliable source, but his environmental education at Harvard (38) and his constant contact with the scientific community (138-141) safely put these doubts to rest.


Before addressing the ways in which Al Gore meets the specific guidelines of USC’s awarding process, it seems prudent to first examine Freedman’s wisdom in regards to the key factors in making an earnest selection of an honorand. These considerations are of supreme importance, Freedman opines, because “[i]n bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most” (117). He warns against choosing controversial figures and celebrities as he feels they may harm the university’s national image and champions instead those who have attained “intellectual distinction and public service” (118), those with whom bonds can be forged to benefit the university and its students, and those public officials with a “moral dimension” (127). Al Gore is not a risky choice since there is no controversy attached to his character; Freedman’s concern regarding the “harm” celebrity might cause is also unfounded in Gore’s case given that his fame is of a different nature than the popular culture icons that are commonly associated with the word “celebrity” today. Certainly a leader in public service, Gore is also one who can potentially offer great opportunities for USC to take a leading position on the world stage in advancing research into alternative energy and sustainable engineering, for example. He is also what Freedman would deem a prize candidate due to the moral tone of his public work since it allows for his commencement speech “to make an important public announcement” (127). In choosing Gore as an honoree, USC will make the statement that it not only supports active stewardship of the environment, but also the values and characteristics Gore embodies: he is ethical in his pursuit of the scientific truth, unafraid to challenge authority and stand up for his beliefs, and intent on following, with integrity, that vocation which holds moral and personal value to him.

Mike Martin devotes his book, Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics, to this idea of adding meaning and morals to the professional arena. His writing is helpful in recognizing the attributes that characterize the highest caliber individual who is most deserving of an honorary degree. To gauge the attainment of “meaningful work,” Martin defines the term in three categories: “craft, compensation, and moral concern” (21), or termed differently, “advanced expertise, social recognition, and service to clients and community” (22). Al Gore exhibits all of these tenets. In his book, An Inconvenient Truth, this craft is demonstrated by the accurate information he communicates and the evidence of his continued thirst for more knowledge. He provides a clear and complete analysis of the global warming problem, discussing far-reaching topics ranging from the melting of the polar ice caps to rising temperature trends, from new extreme weather disasters to species extinctions, and from deforestation to the politics of CO2 emissions. All of this is presented as data from scientific studies, compiled and simplistically explained by Gore to make it understandable to his less scientific audience. He also displays academic prowess by the many excursions he has taken with scientific teams in order to gain a better understanding of the science behind the statements he makes. In his book, Gore mentions 24 different scientific locations he has visited (138). Additionally, he has played a major role in many legislative efforts, including the negotiations at Kyoto (8-11).


Al Gore likewise demonstrates Martin’s second and third tenets of meaningful work: social recognition and service to the community. Not only has he been elected to several political offices, including both Representative and Senator from Tennessee and Vice President of the United States, he has also been recognized as one of the leading forces in raising environmental awareness. This was indicated when film producer Lawrence Bender and director Davis Gugenheim exhibited faith in Gore’s message by agreeing to collaborate with him to make the movie version of his book, An Inconvenient Truth, a venture that proved successful. Through this social recognition, Gore has been able to further spread his message, thereby providing a great service to his community, an achievement that qualifies him for the doctoral degree in law, or outstanding public service. Throughout Al Gore’s career, one can also make a strong case for his morals and ethics, an important consideration in distinguishing meaningful work. Reports of indiscretions do not permeate Gore’s reputation, a promising sign bearing in mind the mud-slinging involved in high profile politics. This enhances his character and allows his message to be more easily received by both its proponents and critics. His two books, Earth in Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit and An Inconvenient Truth, have served to raise awareness among the general public, hopefully bringing about the dawn of a new environmental outlook. He supplements this by devoting himself to lecturing around the country. “For the last six years,” Gore says, “I have been traveling around the world, sharing the information I have compiled with anyone who would listen. I have traveled to colleges, to small towns and big cities. More and more, I have begun to feel that I am changing minds, but it is a slow process” (9). It is difficult to find impure motives in Gore’s efforts to better the world. Taking no profit from his success, he donates 100% of the proceeds from his books and the movie “to a non-profit, bipartisan effort to move public opinion in the United States to support bold action to confront global warming” (10). Practicing what he preaches, his books are printed on 30% post-consumer fiber and are manufactured using 100% green power (338).


By bestowing Al Gore with an honorary degree, USC will fulfill all of
the guidelines by which it selects its honorees. The university indicates that the award is meant “to honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities;” “to honor alumni and other individuals who have made outstanding contributions…to USC or the[ir] communities;” “to recognize exceptional acts of philanthropy to the university and/or on the national or world scene;” and “to elevate the university...by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields..." It has been shown above how Al Gore effectively fulfills these criteria. He has made a personal vow to protect the environment and has spent his career expending countless man-hours to promote and further that cause. As a leader on the environmental and political stages, Gore’s acceptance of an honorary degree from USC would bestow the institution with a prestigious recognition that it could be a prominent player in environmental reform and activism.


While Al Gore appears to be a prime choice for an honorary degree, James Freedman and others who share his viewpoint might object to Gore’s receipt of such a distinguished honor. In Freedman’s writings on the proper selection of an honorary degree recipient, he aggressively discourages the awarding thereof to a celebrity, opining that “the twins of egotism and insecurity [are] as insatiable as they are” (124). He casts a negative light on the choice of Yale University to award degrees to Jodie Foster and Julie Andrews, saying that the school “lower[ed] the bar” (126) in doing so. However, Freedman offers no discussion of the women’s achievements in the field of acting or on the world stage. It seems contradictory that artists or fictional writers may be given accolades for their heralding artistic and literary achievements and for their ability to contribute to society by moving their audiences, yet actors who do the same creative work are deemed unacceptable. Though agreeable that celebrities who are merely popular culture icons and who have contributed nothing to their field or to the community should not be awarded honors based solely on their fame, it does not follow that simply because an exceptional person happens to be met with celebrity, their achievements should be excluded.

Indeed, one might argue that Al Gore’s recognizable public face serves as a mode by which to attract more attention to the cause for which he is fighting. Celebrities are constantly recruited to stand at the forefront of an issue in order to draw in listeners who might have otherwise been unaware of the topic. Shirley Temple and Angelina Jolie are prime examples of celebrities heading United Nations campaigns, as is Audrey Hepburn and her work for UNICEF. Not only are these women extraordinary in their acting expertise, but the time and effort they devote to promoting a cause cannot be overlooked simply due to their profession that is not typically taken seriously. As with Al Gore, their celebrity primarily allows them greater resources and visibility to push the effort forward. In fact, Gore does not present solely his own ideas, but serves as a conduit for scientists’ voices that might have otherwise gone unpublicized. Many environmentalists have long spouted the same principles as Gore, but it was a cry largely unheard on the public scale. Yet when Al Gore speaks, people listen. His Keynote Presentation on global warming, delivered well over 1,000 times, has received standing ovations on multiple accounts, indicating his ability to capture the public’s eye and open their minds to environmental consciousness. Perhaps coincidental, the belief in the existence of global warming and the need to do something about it has increased in the recent years, arguably a result of work by visible people such as Al Gore. By simply educating the country on the issues at hand, Gore’s service to humanity and the scientific community certainly qualifies him for the proposed honorary degree in the category of law, or outstanding public service. By gaining popular appeal for the issues, scientific research may thrive from additional funding, therefore protecting the planet for future generations.


Finally, in making nominations for an honorary degree, it is prudent to also consider the weight and compelling nature of the commencement speech the honoree might present.
Because of the varied experience he has had in the public arena, Al Gore has a plethora of advice to impart to graduating seniors
. For example, delivering profoundly popular Keynote Presentation would be highly effective. To take a different approach, he might recount the rewarding experience gained from contributing to the community through public office. More environmentally specific, he may also discuss global warming, methods to fight it, sustainable development, and the necessity for a paradigm shift in the way humanity views the future and the environment. His advice to the graduates would perhaps be to take a forward-looking approach to life and the impact one has on his present world and that of generations to come. A compelling quote from the introduction of An Inconvenient Truth indicates the moving capacity of the inspiration he could provide to the graduating class: “The climate crisis also offers us with the chance to experience what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing: a general mission; the exhilaration of a compelling moral purpose; a shared and unifying cause; the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict that so often stifle the restless human need for transcendence; the opportunity to rise” (10).


Al Gore’s commitment to bettering society and striving to protect the environment makes him an excellent candidate for an honorary doctorate degree from USC. His devotion to the issues and values close to his heart makes him an outstanding example to those ready to embark on making their mark on the world. Using his public face and the experience he has in many arenas—environmentalism, politics, and business—Al Gore’s voice for environmental protection, activism, and awareness i
s slowly turning the world to take a closer look at its environmental situation. He is a successful herald in his field, and his ethics and goals are congruous with USC’s standards. A great deal could be learned by sincerely examining Al Gore’s contributions to society and the methods and morals by which he achieves them.


Monday, September 25, 2006

The Natural Resource Defense Council: A Picturesque Website

The days of paper are quickly fading. Communication by old fashioned pen and ink is an idea children under the age of ten have only heard of in ancient romances and myths. With email, informational web pages, and recreational sites, the internet has taken over our lives. According to a study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, seventy-three percent of all American adults, and ninety-one percent of college students, surf the web. Of the categories listed in the study, over one-third of the activities for which people use the internet are fact-finding or research based. In fact, ninety-one percent of all internet users placed themselves in the category Use a search engine to find information. With the high demand for knowledge, as well as other services, frequently being fulfilled by the World Wide Web, it is fitting that these sites be held accountable for the data they offer, the cohesiveness of their presentation, and ease of navigation. Organizations such as theWebby Awards and the WebAwards critique sites according to specific guidelines and award those that are exceptional. There is even a publication called Web Style Guide which informs those seeking to create a web page of the correct approach to take. These studies and sites devoted to web design prove the enormous role the internet has taken in the American lifestyle. Using these authorities as guidelines for critique, the Natural Resource Defense Council, (NRDC), demonstrates the difficultly of creating a perfect website. While it is an exceptional example of a cohesive, appealing, and credible informational resource, there remains room for improvement.

In delving into a critique of the NRDC's website it seems prudent to employ the guidelines used by the Webby Awards, the organization that nominated the NRDC for best website in the category of Charitable Organizations Nonprofit. The Webby Awards judges on six criteria: virtual design, functionality, structure and navigation, content, interactivity, and overall experience. Aesthetically pleasing, the visual design of the site is in accordance with the Webby Awards' stipulations of being “high quality, appropriate, and relevant for the audience and the message it is supporting.” The home page appears in earthy greens, blues, and grays with readable text and carefully selected graphics that accurately imbue their represented topic while capturing the viewer’s attention. An appropriate graphic appears on nearly every page, avoiding textual monotony. However, there are a few instances where one graphic appears many times within a section of the website. An example of this is seen in the global warming subsite. Within the article entitled “Solving Global Warming,” the same graphic appears in an identical position on each of the four pages of the article. Regardless of this small lack of variety, it is notable that the visuals throughout the site do not impede the functionality, which is defined by Webby Awards as “the use of technology on the site.” The pages load quickly and the average internet user is already equipped with the proper media-viewing components.

Closely related to virtual design and functionality, the NRDC website also deserves praise for its structure and navigation, or “the framework of a site, the organization of content…and the method in which you move through the site.” The sidebar
links clearly delineate the wide variety of natural resources with which the site deals. In accordance with Web Style Guide's suggestion to create a menu of subsites to avoid “burden[ing] the home page with dozens of links [as] the page grows too long to load in a timely manner, and its sheer complexity may be off-putting,” NRDC's sidebar allows for easy navigation to and from the page's subdivisions. The NRDC again follows Web Style Guide’s advice on allowing these subsites to have their own “mini-home page…oriented to a specific audience.” Throughout all of these, there are links to several other pages and resources, creating a fully developed informational index pertaining to each natural resource which may be important to an individual viewer. This allows for clear, specialized, and interactive navigation to one area of interest. It is also very effective that the sidebar continually appears while navigating through the site so that one does not need to tirelessly employ the Back button.

A particularly notable feature of the many subdivisions within the larger web page is that each is themed in a color fitting of its topic. For example, there is a blue theme for Clean Air and Energy,” an orange theme for “Global Warming,” and a green theme for “Parks, Forests, and Wildlands.” Each tab is also equipped with a couple of well chosen graphics. This adds to the general visual appeal and flow of the site while establishing a tone. Additionally, the format of the pages is identical which creates a cohesive picture, what Web Style Guide calls "consistency," when surfing through the site. The guide maintains that “[r]epetition is not boring; it gives your site a consistent graphic identity that creates and then reinforces a distinct sense of 'place' ... A consistent approach to layout and navigation allows readers to adapt quickly to your design and to confidently predict the location of information and navigation controls across the pages of your site.” The NRDC achieves this by placing graphics, navigational links, and the content categories in the same location in each subsite.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of this web page is its content. The Webby Awards guidelines qualifies content
by saying, “Good content should be engaging, relevant, and appropriate for the audience.” The NRDC site meets these stipulations by including discussions and news articles on the environmental issues that currently dominate the world stage. These include such topics as “Hybrid Values: The hows and whys of buying a hybrid,” Solving Global Warming: It Can be Done,” and “For California Voters” (a discussion of Propositions 84 and 87). The information relayed is accurate, reputable, and is presented in a compelling manner. Through the topics covered and the tone of the site, its liberal stance is clear, as evidenced by such articles as “Bush Budget Slashes Environmental Programs." While some may find fault in this bias, the liberal position is appropriate for the targeted audience while not being abrasive to the opposition. Webby Awards even maintains that “[g]ood content takes a stand.” Warning against verbosity, Webby Awards also says this about content: “You can tell it's been developed for the Web because it's clear and concise and it works in the medium.” The NRDC’s content is indeed concise, yet informative. Specifically, the discussion entitled “Global Warming Basics” includes thirteen vital questions on the issue (such as “What causes global warming?” and “How can we cut global warming pollution?”) with accurate, yet to the point, answers. Within each, the NRDC not only offers the facts, but also presents solutions. In response to “How can we cut global warming pollution?” the site advises “reducing pollution from vehicles and power plants” as well as calling for the implementation of renewable energy sources. Targeting the average citizen, the NRDC also champions simple household energy conservation. These practices include replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, weatherstripping windows against drafts, and purchasing energy efficient appliances.

Whereas the site’s content effectively supports the mission statement of the organization, its one shortcoming is the lack of in-depth biographical information on the creators and administrators of the group. This weakness injures the ethos of the site. While the link to the organization’s mission statement is clearly visible, as are advertisements of the praise the NRDC and its President, Frances G. Beinecke, have received, it is difficult to find the link that leads to a description of what makes Ms. Beinecke qualified to oversee the self-proclaimed “most effective environmental action organization [in the nation].” This information is not readily available on the About Uspage, nor is there a link from Beinecke's name that takes the reader to her biography. One must first navigate through the drop-down bar—out of sync with the structure of the rest of the site, this is the only drop-down menu that appears at the top of the page—and then find Ms. Beinecke’s name only to see a brief biography. She is also one of the only two experts whose credentials are listed. It seems as though detailed resumes should be presented on those who are behind the scenes of such a high-profile organization. However, the credibility of the group is enhanced by the sheer number of people employed and the fact that it is housed in four offices throughout the country. Adding status to the institution, Ms. Beinecke has a degree from Yale. Additionally, the founder of the NRDC, John H. Adams, held a position on President Clinton's Council for Sustainable Development. NRDC's experts produce credible reports, some of which are presented to the Senate. This has earned the organization praise in publications such as Rolling Stone and On Earth. It can be argued that these positive aspects outweigh the few aforementioned blemishes.

Webby Awards also considers “interactivity” to be a major component in the success of a website, a challenge the NRDC overcomes. Though Webby Awards includes “searches, chat rooms, e-commerce and gaming or notification agents, peer-to-peer applications and real-time feedback” in its description of good interactivity, most of which this site does not possess. NRDC's overall function achieves the fundamental premise of interactivity: “It insists that you participate, not spectate.” Opportunities to “take action” or “join in” are constantly visible when surfing through the web pages; every subsite includes a section entitled “What You Can Do.” The global warming page offers activist t-shirts, hats, and bracelets to promote the cause and fund further NRDC research. Also promoting interactivity, the NRDC articles all include links to other online resources, creating an admirable cross-pollination effect. In an article entitled “Foot Loose and Carbon-Free,” the NRDC provides links to thirteen other organizations to supplement its ideas on how citizens can make purchases to counter-act their impact on global warming. This certainly encourages the viewer to seek the information important to her and participate in the many solutions the NRDC offers.

In analyzing the merits of the NRDC website, it is prudent to note that awards are not exclusively given by Webby Awards. Another organization, WebAwards, also acknowledges those who have created exceptional web pages. Its judging criteria are very similar to the Webby Awards’; however, WebAwards also judges on innovation. Though the definition of “innovation” is not given on the WebAwards site, one can deduce that this means the presentation of forward-looking ideas and the use of new technology. The content of the NRDC site is extremely innovative, offering a wide variety of ideas and practical solutions to today’s environmental problems. One suggestion that it promotes is the purchase of carbon offsets. By contributing funds to non-profit research organizations and alternative energy foundations, an individual can essentially offset their personal carbon emissions. The site links directly to several of these institutions. However, the NRDC falls short in its multimedia innovation. At first it seems as though graphics are the only form of multimedia on the site. It is not until one clicks the tiny multimedia link at the bottom of the homepage that she finds that other media sources are available. These include audio clips, videos, and webcasts. Even though innovative technology is present, it goes almost unnoticed. The application of these features may have been better utilized by providing the links to the clips and webcasts on their topically respective pages.

By looking closely at the integral parts of the NRDC website, it is easy to see why it was nominated by Webby Awards. The final judging criterion laid down by Webby Awards is “overall experience. Each component of structure, navigation, virtual design, and content work together to create a website that provides clear and accurate information while keeping the visitor engaged. Regardless of a few improvements that could be made to this website, the NRDC achieves what Webby Awards stipulates for an overall positive experience: “[it] make[s] one stay or leave. One has probably had a good overall experience if (s)he comes back regularly, places a bookmark, signs up for a newsletter, participates, emails the site to a friend, or stays for a while, intrigued.” With 1.2 million members, it is indisputable that the organization has created a captivating website. The visitor comes away with an enrichment of knowledge, a sense of involvement, and a surge of interest in the issues. In a time when the internet has become the prime source of information, this website is a promising example of the future virtual age.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Brighter Future: How Far Has Independence From Fossil Fuels Come?

Modern humanity must still take great strides in understanding the complexity of environmental problems and the difficult task of solving them. Too often it is the trend to place supreme importance on the present rather then acknowledging that the actions of today have consequences tomorrow and beyond. However, environmentalists finally seem to be making progress in convincing the public and policy-makers alike that our disregard for the environment is taking its toll. With the debate over global warming turning away from whether or not it exists to what should be done about it, politicians and surprising company presidents (Shell Oil) championing steps to reduce fossil fuel dependence, and alternative energy research receiving boosts from lawmakers and large corporations, the future looks a little brighter. However, even such heralded technologies as ethanol and biofuel require continued advancement if they are to fully solve the problem. We are in the initial stages of decreasing our impact and, though we have farther to go, hope exists.

Monday, September 11, 2006

College Campuses: The Next Arena for Environmental Activism

With the high prices of fossil fuel driven power, not to mention the environmental degradation it inflicts, it is comforting to notice the rising advocacy for alternative energy. Throughout the news, stories prove the switch to green energy, such as wind and solar power, is slowly occurring worldwide. However, with the US remaining as one of the largest contributors of fossil fuel emissions, the country is in dire need of an advocate to promote clean energy and be an impetus for more environmental legislation. Because of the political power college students possess, they can be the force that leads the US into alternative energy.

As one of the most sought after voting blocks, the political position students hold is powerful in swaying politics. By fighting for a cause, students can force changes in politicians’ platforms who hope to attract young voters. Many student bodies have already begun to channel that power into calling for reforms on their campuses in favor of green technology. Throughout the nation, many college institutions have adopted green power, some committing to go 100% green. Students are pushing for the energy switch and accepting the small increase in activities fees to fund the green energy. While the technology takes initial capital, the switch is worth it since the cost of fossil fuels is already forcing some campuses to raise fees to cover energy consumption. Even popular entertainment has taken note of students’ importance in the clean energy platform. MTV and Energy Action Coalition (EAC) have teamed up to sponsor a competition, Break the Addiction Challenge headed by Jay-Z, which encourages students to petition their schools to adopt green energy policies. ‘“We believe students are…well-positioned to be advocating for this because they more than anyone know what's at stake,”’ says the EAC coordinator in an article publicizing the competition.


With these inspiring examples, it is shameful that USC has not joined the cause. As President of the University of Pennsylvania maintains, ‘“It's time for higher education to take a stand. Our institution is huge, and every minor change in our behavior has a major impact on the environment.”’ In a city plagued by air pollution, USC should actively help to solve the problem by changing its power policies. 85% of polled students agreed they would be willing to pay a small fee increase to protect the environment. Mike Stephan, president of the USC College Democrats, offered his club’s support, saying, “The University is obligated, as a leader in academia and in the community, to seek a cleaner, greener energy source.”

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Environmental Complexity: One Problem's Answer Is Another Issue's Problem

When one gives earnest thought to the environmental situation of today’s world, “bleak” comes to mind. While many problems are slow to be remedied, one must give credit to increasing recent breakthroughs. With the passage of California’s Greenhouse Bill, another forward step in slowing global warming is making its mark. The action’s largest achievement is the example it provides for other governments. As posed by the Las Vegas Sun, “Now it is up to other states…to follow California's lead and join in…” It is refreshing that solutions to such a broad problem are gaining popularity. Not only is emissions reduction a progressing solution, tree-plantings along with the widespread fight against deforestation are promising answers.

The combination of these actions in curbing global warming demonstrates the interconnectedness and complexity of environmental problems. The solution to one problem can be an expansive solution to others. Rainforests and trees have their hand in air quality, preservation of biodiversity, and eco-stability. However, further complicating environmentalism, problems caused by excessive trees in South Africa proves that a solution, such as protecting forests, which appears like a blanket answer, is, in fact, not. Invasive alien plants (IAPs), many of which are water-loving European trees, threaten the ecological systems of South Africa, and, most drastically, its water supply. Competing for precious water, IAPs triumph over native plants, and because of their biological functions, absorb excessive amounts of water, drying many streams. In addition to causing other ecological damages, IAPs also affect the local economy as many villages suffer from water shortages and non-arable land. Working for Water, a program charged with solving the problem, is progressively reversing the effects and restoring the habitat to its ecological balance by removing IAPs and replacing them with native species. In the shadow of the global warming debate, it seems surprising that an innovative government-sponsored program would be relentless in its effort to remove hundreds of trees from the landscape. This situation provides evidence of the global ecosystem’s complexity. The solution to one environmental problem finds itself at the heart of another, indicating the danger in thinking in absolutes. The lesson this South African example teaches continues; Working for Water seeks to combine environmental with economic solutions. Providing poverty relief, the program offers employment to nearly 20,000 villagers and promotes local market by creating Value Added Industries that utilize the biomass removed from the area. The human component to living in harmony with the environment means that humanitarianism should not be separated from environmentalism. Everything is connected.